All the Sacrifice

Apr 18, 2012

By Elizabeth Lower-Basch

Yesterday, the Budget Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing that was titled "Strengthening the Safety Net" but was really about Chairman Ryan's proposals to cut billions of dollars from safety net programs, including converting both Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) into block grants. 

One of the most important questions asked at the hearing was posed by Rep. James Lankford (R-OK), who asked how should we measure the success of these programs, and of proposals to reform them. CLASP believes that safety net programs are successful when they prevent hunger and destitution, when they promote the health of children and adults, and when they support and reward work for those who are able to work without abandoning those who are not.

None of the hearing's witnesses offered any evidence that the proposed changes would accomplish any of these goals. To the contrary, Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities provided evidence that cuts of the levels envisioned by the Ryan budget would significantly harm the most vulnerable.  And Ron Haskins, one of the designers of the 1996 welfare reform, acknowledged that the shift toward a work-based safety net has left behind those who are unable to work because of personal and situational challenges. Block granting these programs would accomplish just one goal--cutting federal spending.

The Ryan budget provided a rough outline for cuts in social spending. This week we are beginning to see what these cuts would look like in practice. The House Agriculture committee voted today to slash SNAP benefits by more than $36 billion over 10 years--while leaving agricultural subsidies untouched. The House Ways and Means Committee--which has jurisdiction over all federal tax policy--moved forward bills today that would:

  • eliminate the social services block grant, which provides funding used for child care, child welfare, and services to the elderly;
  • deny the child tax credit to low-income immigrant working families with 5.5 million children; and
  • put low- and moderate-income workers who receive health insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act at risk of owing hundreds of dollars to the IRS if they change jobs or have unpredictable hours of employment.

By voting to cut programs that serve the most vulnerable families, while protecting tax breaks for millionaires, Congressional Republicans this week have shown their strange understanding of "shared sacrifice" where millionaires get all the sharing and vulnerable families get all the sacrifice.

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